Sex in the Masterchef kitchen

I’m all riled up this morning about something pretty innocuous. I think my feelings are symptomatic of disappointment – in the sloppy way people too often think, and in the general slide to nonsense society has been subject to in the last 20 years.

The new series of Masterchef has just begun here in Oz. Perhaps looking to refresh a well-used format they’ve applied a theme to this series – basically the guys versus the girls. Unsurprisingly this has caused a minor storm of controversy. It’s sexist apparently, it denigrates (though I’m not sure who), it’s retro, it’s boorish, and all the rest of the crap that sells newspapers these days. It’s all fucking rubbish.

Now I’m not watching Masterchef, and have no real desire to, but find nothing offensive in this theme. No-one will ever accuse TV producers of being standard-bearers for virtue, and clearly their focus is drumming up ratings – which this controversy will help. All the same, I’m hesitant to accuse them of more than cynical marketing, if that, which is pretty well situation normal. Ultimately the show is about entertainment, and they’ve found a different angle that plays off the differences in the genders. Why not? There are differences you know. That’s why I like girls and not boys. Deal with it.

What really got me going this morning was reading an editorial piece by one Paul Kalina. Now I have low expectations of TV writers in general. There are some good, but many are just the dregs (mmm, now I’m being discriminatory against TV writers!). This little piece though takes the cake.

I’m not about to re-hash what was a poorly written, barely considered piece of tripe, except to highlight the one passage in it that tipped me over the edge. This guy is so outraged by the evils of this show that he then goes on to speculate what will come next. What’s next? he wonders. Able bodied versus the handicapped?

Now that’s the sort of comment that reveals more about the writer than it adds to intelligent discussion. Is he drawing parallels between the two sexes, and between able and disabled people? Which is which in this scenario? Are the boys the able or disabled? What is the connection? Why wasn’t this spiked?

What puzzles me – and let’s not forget that I’m old school gen X – is knowing who is the offended party in a show that pits men against women (besides TV critics)? What is it about that that gets so many holier than thou types to get their knickers in a wicked twist? The only possible hint of controversy I can see is the perpetuation of sexual stereotypes – but seriously can’t see how that applies when both sexes are in the kitchen.

To my way of thinking this is intended as a fun slant on an old format. To me it’s no more discriminatory than if they had blondes up against brunettes, or left-handed people against right.

Now, technically, it is sexist – the show is being divided down gender lines. What we need to be smarter about is understanding the difference between discrimination that is meaningless, even positive; and discrimination that seeks to elevate one over the other. Now this is sexist in technical terms, but there is no evidence to suggest that it is of the second kind.

Last week I made a racist comment here – I knew it as I wrote it.  Lauding my new manager at the shop, I made mention of the qualities she possesses that I admire in the Vietnamese in general – industry, enterprise, ambition. Now it was a positive comment, but technically racist because I am discriminating (and generalising) by race. That’s something we need be rightfully cautious about – racial profiling – but there also needs to be some balance.

This is what really annoys me. Over the last 25 years western society has made great advances, there’s no denying that. Casual discrimination of all sorts was rife back then. It still exists in pockets, but in general we’re much better educated about it than we once were. There should be no question about what is acceptable and what isn’t, but it has to be more than learned response. Like pretty well everything in life, there should be thought applied to it so that true understanding can emerge. To my mind these issues in large swathes of society have become black and white doctrine. From that emerges what is popularly called political correctness.

Anyone who has read my blog for any period knows that one of my major beefs these days is that too few people really think for themselves. They take their lead from the newspaper headlines and current affairs shows, they have slogans and theories rammed down their throat by media and politicians and commentators and so on. And without any thought they accept ‘standards’ that allow for no shades of grey. We cease to think, we react.

This little piece in today’s paper is typical of that. Here it portrays an issue the writer sees as being black and white, without really understanding the context, or even seeking to. It’s a Pavlovian response – this show discriminates between the genders, ergo it’s sexist. Simple as that.

At this point I feel the need to make clear that I don’t believe I’m sexist. Not consciously at least. I believe in the equality of races, or religion, or creed, and so on. Sexual preference is none of my business. These are things I believe. Now doubtless I’ve been conditioned by society in this direction – I am one of the educated, liberal types of this world. That’s our mantra. It has to be more than mantra though, and for my part I can say these are things I’ve thought deeply on for myself over a period of many years. When you do that what you realise is that so much of discrimination is a nonsense. Putting aside the moral dimension, it’s just dumb to discriminate on grounds of race or sex or whatever, and when it happens it’s largely the result of ignorance or fear or both. You don’t have to be a bigot to be ignorant, however.

Now, I make claims to be this paragon of the fair go, but I’m human too. These beliefs should be vested in a living being. You can learn the times table at school by rote at school and recite it till the cows come home, but what does it signify? We should have these values enshrined in our constitution, but we can’t go around with a stone tablet in our gullet. To have meaning they need air, they need to be part of a living culture and not be stultifying strictures violently policed. We don’t want drones reciting what is right and wrong because that’s how they’ve been programmed; we want people willing to discuss, understand, and engage.

In the last fortnight there have been a lot of developments on the racial front here in Melbourne. I hope to write about it at some point. On the face of it much is disturbing, but on reflection I take the view that we have the great opportunity to learn, not only about the differences we’re ignorant of, but also of the things we’ve been made to understand.

to my mind it has become


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